President Barack Obama‘s second US Supreme Court pick, Elena Kagan, drew one step closer Tuesday to being just the fourth woman to reach the high bench as a key senate committee backed her nomination.
The Senate Judiciary Committee tasked with vetting Kagan voted 13-6 to send her nomination to the full Senate, where her all-but-certain confirmation was expected before a month-long August break.
Just one Republican, Senator Lindsey Graham, joined all 12 of Obama’s Democratic allies on the starkly divided panel, highlighting Kagan’s support for broad government powers to wage the “war on terrorism.”
“She understands we’re at war,” said the South Carolina lawmaker. “It would not have been someone I would have chosen, but the person who did choose, President Obama, I think chose wisely.”
Obama hailed Kagan as “one of this country’s leading legal minds” and said she would make “a fair and impartial Supreme Court Justice” as he called for a final confirmation vote “before the August recess.”
The justices serve life terms as the final arbiters of the US Constitution, setting precedents for all US courts and adjudicating bitter disputes, often in narrow 5-4 rulings that can take a generation to reverse.
Some of their most controversial decisions have included the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion in the United States and the Bush v. Gore decision that ended the disputed 2000 presidential election in George W. Bush‘s favor.
Democrats and their two independent allies control 58 Senate seats — 59 after a successor to the late Senator Robert Byrd took office on Tuesday — well over the 50 needed to confirm Kagan, and Republicans have shown no sign they plan to use parliamentary delay tactics that require 60 votes to break.
The White House and its Democratic allies have said they would like Kagan confirmed to replace liberal standard bearer John Paul Stevens in time for the court’s fall session.
Kagan — who as US solicitor general has represented the Obama administration before the high court — would be the second justice named by Obama, after Sonia Sotomayor became the first Hispanic to reach the bench.
Nominating US Supreme Court justices ranks among the most consequential powers of the US presidency, as a judge’s lifetime tenure typically stretches well beyond the influence of the temporary occupant of the White House.
Democrats pointed to her decades of legal work, including in her current position as US solicitor general and her time as the first woman dean of Harvard Law School.
Her Republican critics said they feared she would be unable to keep her personal politics separate from her judging.
But despite looming November elections to decide control of the US Congress, opposition to Kagan has been relatively tepid.
Kagan drew the American Bar Association’s highest rating of “unanimously well qualified” and her nomination had the support of past solicitors general, including many Republicans.
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